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Monday, September 22, 2014

200 Blog Posts!

It's hard to believe that I recently published my 200th blog post.

When I decided on a whim to start a blog back in 2009, I never thought that 200 posts later I would still find things to write about. Ideas can come from almost anywhere: newspaper ads, news stories, personal experiences. Nor would I have believed that I would have readers from around the world. For some reason this blog draws a lot of readers from Russia, and at times Russian readers outnumber those from the U.S.

It's always interesting to see where my readers come from: Brazil, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Canada, Romania, Malaysia, Ireland, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and so many other countries -- even Armenia! I would love to hear from some of my international readers, to find out where they heard about this blog and what their impressions are.

I love to travel throughout the world, and to exchange ideas with people from other countries. Some of my most memorable travel experiences involve interactions with everyday people. While living in Moscow in the late 1990s, I had opportunities to chat with some local residents who shared my love of dogs. During last year's trip to Croatia, I spent some time sitting on a bench overlooking the water in Split, chatting with an older woman about life in Croatia and how it had changed since independence. She spoke English with some difficulty, but we were able to communicate. When I mentioned that I speak Russian, I she recited a poem in Russian that she had been forced to memorize as a school girl when Croatia was part of the Soviet empire.

I have Facebook friends from Russia, Turkey, Kenya and Ukraine, in addition to Canada and Great Britain. I know some of these people personally, having met them during my travels. I enjoy learning about other cultures, other languages and other people. With so much division and hatred in the world, this personal connection may help bring people together one by one. I have friends from a variety of religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim, as well as non-believers and those from a variety of Christian denominations. Having lived in Moscow, I learned to respect the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church, such as wearing a skirt and covering my head when entering an Orthodox church. While in Turkey, I followed Muslim customs when entering a mosque. When I visit Israel next year, I plan to respect customs in that country. Travel does, indeed, make the world a smaller place. After my trip to Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa earlier this year, I now pay far more attention to news stories from that vast continent.

So to the more than 13,000 visitors to my blog (some of them more than once), I say 'thank you' for stopping by. I welcome your feedback, or if you prefer, just a comment that lets me know where you are from.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of Year

Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile. -- William Cullen Bryant 

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald 

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. -- Henry David Thoreau

"It's the most wonderful time of the year," to borrow a line from a song. No, I'm not talking about the Christmas season. I'm thinking about autumn.

Even here in the desert southwest, there is a distinct and welcome feeling of fall in the air, although the cottonwoods and other native trees haven't yet begun to cloak themselves in beautiful shades of yellow and gold. It sometimes is cool enough to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows for a couple of hours in the morning. Although autumn doesn't arrive officially until Sept. 22, and daytime temperatures still often reach well into the 80s, the new season is beginning to make an appearance.

My appreciation of this wonderful time of year has increased greatly since I moved to the high desert, with its long, hot, dry summers. Autumn brings changes detectable by sight, sound, feel and scent. We don't get the beautiful red and orange leaves typical of maple trees, but our cottonwoods and aspens still can put on a gorgeous display of gold. 

Autumn mornings are cooler, and the sun begins to peek over the shoulders of the Sandia Mountains to the east later in the day. I appreciate this, as my bedroom faces east. The angle of the sun is lower and the days are shorter than during the hot summer. The rising sun and clouds on the horizon create brilliant sunrises. And bright yellow flowers bloom along the roads and acequias.

In addition to the cooler nighttime temperatures, another sure sign of autumn is the appearance in the skies over central New Mexico of hot air balloons. I saw a couple dozen balloons early one recent morning as I was out walking. In just a couple of weeks, the skies will be filled with hundreds of colorful balloons from around the world participating in the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Depending on the winds on a given day, many of the balloons fly over my neighborhood, and some pass directly over my house.

The famous New Mexico green chiles have been harvested and chile roasting is underway at many grocery stores in the area, with the smell of roasting chiles filling the air. Shoppers snap up 30-pound bags of the spicy chiles, freezing them after roasting for use during the rest of the year. The fall rains, the last of the ‘monsoon’ season, have arrived, bringing much-needed moisture to parched yards and plants, and replenishing a bit of the water in the Rio Grande and lakes, streams and rivers throughout the state. Southern New Mexico has been getting too much rain – an irony in this bone-dry state – and many areas have been flooded. But the rest of the state remains very dry. Even some of my desert plants have struggled to survive our years-long drought, so these rains are always very welcome.

Even the air is different in autumn, with a different smell than is found the rest of the year. It feels crisp and seems lighter somehow. Once in a while I get a whiff of smoke from someone's fireplace or fire pit, and the smell of fallen leaves adds to the different aroma.

With the changing of the weather comes planning for my annual road trip Durango, CO, to ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The 45-mile route is lined with
mountain creeks and beautiful aspens, ending in the old mining town of Silverton at some 9,300 feet above sea level..
I have started to eye the row of cookbooks in my kitchen as I yearn for the pleasures of a hot cup of soup, or the aroma of black bean chili or stew cooking in the slow cooker. Thoughts of making pumpkin bread and cornbread make an appearance. My morning cup of tea, a daily ritual throughout the year, is even more enjoyable on a cool, crisp morning.

Soon I will be able to leave a window open in my bedroom at night. In the early morning, I can open dining room windows to let in the fresh, cool air. I am looking forward to wearing different clothes than the hot-weather shorts and tops I have worn for months. Long sleeves, sweatshirts and light jackets will emerge from the closets where they have waited the past several months. Soon, tens of thousands of birds will make their annual migration through central New Mexico on their way to their winter homes. The honking of geese and the unusual calls of the sandhill cranes will soon fill the skies.

It's now time to replace the brightly colored summer tablecloth with one filled with browns and oranges, and to set out the autumn-themed accents in my house. Even small changes in decor make for a refreshing change.

I dread the cold, dark days of winter, as I hate to be cold. But the coming of autumn is always  welcome. What's not to like about this time of year? It brings cooler temperatures, crisp nights, glorious leaves of many colors, awesome azure skies, and a desire to prepare some home-cooked comfort foods.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Life's Annoyances

A lot of things have been annoying me lately.

One thing that really annoys me is having to make repeated phone calls or trips to accomplish something that should be quite simple. For example, when a company advertises a special deal on some service (tree trimming, for example, or carpet cleaning), why doesn't someone from that company respond to my request to schedule the service? Why does it take several days of phone calls to schedule an appointment for my daughter to see a medical specialist? Why do I have to explain things to a different person every time I call? Why do people promise to call me back, then fail to do so? Call it common courtesy, common sense, business sense or whatever you wish, it certainly is in short supply these days.

Another thing that annoys me is the constant requirement to register with a company, to provide detailed personal information, just to get some basic information. As an example, if I want more information about a house listed for sale, why do I have to set up an account or register just to learn details about the house? Is the realtor really willing to lose a potential sale because I refuse to register? Why should I have to provide my full name, address, phone number and e-mail address just to be able to track a package on the UPS Web site? Really? I have the tracking number, so that should be sufficient. Why do I have to set up an account in order to sign a petition? And why should I have to 'opt out' of having my personal information shared/sold/loaned to other companies? I should have to 'opt in' if I don't mind receiving an onslaught of junk mail and spam e-mails. My personal information is just that -- mine and personal.

I am very careful about revealing personal information, but caution and limited dissemination don't seem to do much good. I don't want to find my personal information available online to anybody who wants it. That just isn't right, and it is an invasion of my privacy. I have given nobody the right to publicly broadcast or disseminate my personal information. Since I pay the phone company every month to keep my number out of the phone book unpublished and unlisted), why do organizations feel it is their right to take and disseminate my personal information for their financial gain? Why am I unable to protect my personal information and keep it private? When I order something online, I always uncheck the box that says I agree to receive 'offers from carefully selected companies that may be of interest' to me. Yet I still receive e-mails that state that I am receiving this spam because I agreed to receive offers from that company. No, I did not agree to receive anything aside from updates about my order. And I certainly did not agree to have my personal information sold to other companies. Aside from the annoyance factor, every time my information is disseminated without my knowledge or consent, it increases the opportunities for identity thieves to steal my identify.

The government's 'do not call' list is a joke. Maybe bona fide companies respect it, but I got so many calls from telemarketers that I finally shut my home phone off. If it rings, I don't hear it. Anybody who needs to reach me has my cell phone number. And lately, I've been getting telemarketing and spam calls on my cell phone. I block the numbers, but that doesn't keep new calls from coming in from different numbers.

I'm sure I'm fighting an uphill battle to protect my privacy and my personal information from telemarketers and other scam artists. Ultimately the blame lies with companies, businesses and non-profit organizations that feel it is their right to take my personal information and give it, loan it or rent it to other businesses. I understand that the government tracks our transactions, spies on our e-mails, etc., but when did we Americans cede to non-government organizations our right to privacy?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11

Where were you, what were you doing, 13 years ago this morning? Where were you when you first heard news of the attacks on America by a group of radical Muslim cowards? If you are like most Americans, September 11, 2001 is one of those days that will forever be etched in your memory. For me, 9/11 is a life-changing day, along with the assassination of Pres. John Kennedy, and the loss of space shuttle Challenger and later, space shuttle Columbia.

I will always remember hearing the news of the cowardly attacks on New York City as I was stuck in a massive traffic jam on 9/11. I will always remember the nearly 3,000 innocent people who were murdered that day, those whose lives are forever shattered, and the first responders who went into the buildings when everyone else was racing to escape. I will always remember the horrible pictures of people jumping to their deaths, and racing to escape the black cloud of dust and debris as it roared down the streets of New York City. I will always remember the unflagging dedication of the search dogs and their handlers as they looked for survivors and later, for the remains of the murdered. I remember the exhausted faces of the handlers and dogs after their return home, and the frustration of some members of the disaster response team who were unable to go. They had been trained for just such a disaster, but not everyone was called to respond.

I will always remember being told to send our staff home, and how my supervisor and I stayed at work, fielding innumerable calls from the news media, developing talking points, coordinating with NASA headquarters and feeling totally numb. As federal employees, we felt especially vulnerable that day, so our center was closed and all but a few essential personnel were sent home. I remember working many long days without a break and how panicked I felt when I heard an airplane approaching the runways shared by NASA and the military, even though I knew it was a NASA plane that was expected. The sound of this airplane's engines sent my heart racing. 

And I remember when I finally got a day off work, sitting in my living room watching the endless replays of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, and the towers collapsing, finally at last being able to give in to my grief and letting the endless tears wash over me. I will always remember how this nation, and the world, came together in the aftermath of these cowardly attacks. People wanted to do something, anything, to help. International disputes and rivalries were set aside as the world came together to mourn.

Our world has changed greatly since 9/11, and not for the better. Nations still are being torn apart by wars and by terrorism. Air travel has become a major hassle. Billions of dollars have been spent on enhanced security around the world. Muslim extremists like those who attacked the United States on 9/11 have become even bolder in their attacks on innocent people. They have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren in Nigeria. They have murdered countless innocent people in Iraq. They are trying to establish a so-called 'caliphate of Islam' in parts of Syria and Iraq. 

I will always wish the world would come together once more without being prompted by a huge tragedy. Let us come together to fight those who would attack our nation and its citizens, and to tackle the world's injustices without shedding more blood. And let us always remember those who lost their lives on 9/11/01, as well as those they left behind.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Loving Nature

"The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fibre and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing." -- John Muir

I love nature. It truly is a part of who I am. I feel the most relaxed, and the most alive, when I am by myself in a beautiful natural setting.

I love the trees, the mountains, the water, the windflowers, the wildlife and the beautiful sky. Just being outdoors is in itself a wonderful experience. But being outside in nature is what I really love. I enjoy hiking and outdoor photography, and sometimes just sitting outside listening to the quiet. On rare occasions when it's not too hot or too cold outside, I really enjoy sleeping with my bedroom window open. I can hear crickets chirping, dogs barking in the distance, and if I'm really lucky, coyotes howling nearby.

I am fortunate to live in a part of town where each house sits on a 1/2-acre lot, offering quiet and privacy. I have wonderful views of the Sandia Mountains, and a mere 2 miles away is the Rio Grande bosque, a wooded area along the banks of the river. Also nearby are dirt levees that are perfect for walking, running and horseback riding. During my morning walk today, I heard a horse snorting, chickens cackling and a rooster crowing. As I drove to the store this morning, a very large coyote dashed across the road in front of me. This is a wonderful, quiet place to get out and enjoy nature.

It is so delightful to sit in a quiet spot outside, hearing nothing but the blowing breeze and the occasional twittering of birds. Even here in the New Mexico high desert, mornings tend to be cool and very pleasant, an ideal time to go for a walk. Sometimes I will grab my morning cup of tea and the newspaper and head outside. My dogs enjoy snooping around the yard while I read the paper and drink my tea. Some mornings I'm treated to a beautiful sunrise over the mountains.

I really enjoy the sights, the sounds and the smells of nature. The aroma of pine trees, the smell of the damp earth after a rain, the wonderful aroma of dead leaves on the ground during the fall -- no human-made scents can compare. And the colors of Nature's palette are endless. Even the most talented of artists cannot come close to creating the beauty of the natural world.

There is a great dichotomy in nature. On the one hand, it can be very calming and relaxing, while on the other, being out in nature often requires us to heighten our senses.  We need to be aware of our surroundings for our own safety. Nature also presents a juxtaposition of beauty and danger, of healing plants and deadly animals, of mighty predators and furry bunnies. Nature is a powerful force, yet fragile. Nature offers us gentle streams and rivers, as well as roaring rapids and waterfalls. It can harm or kill us in a variety of ways, a powerfully magnificent landscape of roaring rivers and towering mountains, yet human actions can cause it great damage and threaten the very existence of certain ecosystems, species and areas.

As a follower of a variety of national parks and wilderness organizations on Facebook, I often find myself gasping at the beauty of some of the images I see. In rare instances, my eyes tear up at the sheer beauty of these places. And my heart often aches when I see the damage and destruction humans have wrought upon the land and the species attempting to coexist with us.

We have but one planet to call home. It would behoove all of us to pay more attention to it, to protect it, to care about the land, the water and the other life that shares the planet with us.